Generally this is the time when the long servers are cut a bit of slack, and the wannabes are given their head to show what they have to offer.
It is not the time in the season for making big decisions, but wannabes don’t get to choose, so they have to make the best of every opportunity. A number of young hopefuls did exactly that in Freshford on Sunday when Kilkenny booked another outing in the pre-season muscle stretcher that is the Walsh Cup senior hurling tournament.
This Sunday it will be back to Freshford again for another Walsh Cup joust, this time a semi-final against Galway in what is a repeat of the 2012 All-Ireland final.
Step up in class
The Tribesmen will be a step up in class by comparison with DIT, which is a nice way to ease into the year.
While some showed a little rust after the long break, the likes of Conor Fogarty, points shooter Liam Ryan and goal getters Jonjo Farrell and Mark Kelly achieved a lot more as they left their mark big time on this outing.
The latter three scored 0-6, 2-3 and 2-1 respectively to amass 4-10 of Kilkenny’s total, which was tidy work.
While the scoring rate of the attackers was eye catching and encouraging, the neat stick work and slick movement of Fogarty was every bit as good. Nice going, because you generally don’t tend to notice defenders as much. Word was that the Erin’s Own clubman was going well.
He certainly carried his training ground form into this game. His showing, backed by skilful efforts in the past, would suggest he could be a genuine first team contender this time round. It is early days, but.....
Mark Kelly joined the squad in 2012, but never did he show like he did here.
Two powerful wins under dropping balls led to goals; the first in the 34th minute was followed by an exquisite turn and close range pass to Farrell; the second in the 45th minute was a direct win from a huge clearance from goalie David Herity before he dashed away from his marker to score.
Thomastown’s Farrell is an intriguing performer. He may not be involved in too many plays. He won’t send defenders flying with heavy tackles. Yet he appears to have the knack of scoring. If that is his natural gift, he is blessed. His take of 2-3 from play was the day’s best.
Liam Ryan did what we have seen him do many times for his club. He flew up the wing and lashed over points when in full flight. He got six, the exact amount he scored in the club league final against James Stephens last season. It was almost business as usual for him!
Joey Holden, Shane Prendergast and battling full-back Michael Walsh did well too in a team that had what you could call four regulars - Paul Murphy, Tommy Walsh, T.J. Reid and Colin Fennelly,who was very busy early on and was constantly on the ball.
All praise must be considered in the light that the opposition was provided by students, and as skilful and committed as they were, they wouldn’t stand up to a full blown inter-county team. All the same, the high achievers among the winners can take heart.
The contest was understandably ordinary. DIT suffered after they conceded the first score, a goal, after only four minutes. Fennelly and Ryan worked the ball at pace towards the town end goal. The final ball was to a forward charging Joe Brennan, whose pace and momentum took him through a gap before he finished from close range.
A growing divide
The students opened their account in the sixth minute when goalie Finn McGarry delivered to John Henderson - son of the former Kilkenny player of the same name - who placed Niall McMorrow for a long range shot.
DIT ran up fives wides before they had their second score in the 24th minute, by which stage Kilkenny were 1-7 to 0-2 ahead.
By half-time the divide was 2-7 to 0-4. The second goal was claimed by Farrell from the right edge of the square after Kelly’s win and drive mentioned earlier. The wides tally read 8-4 against DIT.
The losers put in a lively burst during the opening minutes of the new half, when McMorrow hit and missed the target from two frees. Newcomer Paraic Phelan then scored for Kilkenny.
The tide turned - Reid pointed after an assist near midfield by Fogarty; Ryan galloped up the left before sending the white flying and taking a knock which ended with himself and his marker seeing yellow. Paul McDonagh grabbed a minor for DIT before Kilkenny landed goal No. 4.
Mark Kelly turned the route one ball from Herity into a big score. With the gap at 3-10 to 0-6 the students were in disarray. Later they had a goal, from Kilkenny man Anthony Ryan before Farrell finished with a beauty, after fielding from Paraic Phelan, turning on a sixpence and rifling to the net.
He sent the 1,200 or so fan home happy, and encouraged.
Scorers: Kilkenny - Jonjo Farrell (2-3); Mark Kelly (2-1); T.J. Reid (0-7, three frees, one 65); Liam Ryan (0-6); Joe Brennan (1-1); Colin Fennelly (0-2); Geoff Brennan, Paraic Phelan, Conor Fogarty (0-1 each). DIT - Niall McMorrow (0-4, two frees); Anthony Ryan (1-0); Mike Moloney, Paul McDonagh (0-2 each); Liam Rushe (0-1).
Kilkenny - David Herity; Conor Fogarty, Michael Walsh, Shane Prendergast (capt); Paul Murphy, Joey Holden, Tommy Walsh; Geoff Brennan, Paraic Phelan; Colin Fennelly, T.J. Reid, Liam Ryan; Jonjo Farrell, Mark Kelly, Joe Brennan. Subs - Richie Doyle for Walsh; Kevin Kelly for C. Fennelly.
DIT - F. McGarry; W. Devereux, G. McManus, F. Power; L. Prendergast, K. Bergin, S. Morris; J. Henderson, D. Horan; T. Connolly, Mike Moloney (Blacks and Whites), L. Og McGovern; J. Hobbs, L. Rushe, N. McMorrow. Subs - P. McDonagh for Hobbs; M. O’Donoghue for Devereux; K. Whelan for Morris; Anthony Ryan (Graigue-Ballycallan) for Connolly; J. McManus for McMorrow; D. Memory for Prendergast.
Referee - John Keenan (Wicklow).